I have always loved the last weekend in May. As a kid it meant school was out, textbooks were tidily stored away, and alarm clocks were finally silenced – at least until September. It was officially the start of summer.
On Race Day, the radio was tuned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway broadcast. Once the festivities began, I would watch my dad stop whatever he was doing, put his hand over his heart and listen proudly to our National Anthem. After the traditional prerace song “Back Home Again in Indiana” ended and had managed to bring tears to our eyes, we would heartily laugh and repeat the Hulman declaration in unison, "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!" Year after year, that tradition grew.
My dad and I would then soak up the sunshine in lawn chairs on the patio listening to Indianapolis 500 race drivers named Andretti, Unser and Foyt compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The iced tea was always cold and sweet, and the hotdogs grilled to perfection. And no one made homemade potato salad like my mom. If Mother Nature spared us from inclement weather, it was simply the best day ever. But we all know that the last weekend in May is not just about Indy cars racing around an oval track at 200+ mph.
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began in the Spring of 1865 to honor the 620,000 lives lost during the Civil War. It is hard to fathom that at that time, those who died represented 2.5% of the total population – 1 in every 5 soldiers did not come home. Can you even imagine? It personally affected almost every American family.
After World War I the holiday expanded to include all who paid the ultimate sacrifice in all American Wars and became a federal holiday in 1971. More than 1.5 million soldiers have lost their lives in U.S. wars to date. It is a staggering realization to me. My father was fortunate to have come home safely from the Korean War, but it was a gift that many have not had the privilege to enjoy.
Before my father died, he told me not to visit his grave as he would have a higher calling and would not be there. But he made certain I understood that did not mean to not take a moment of silence in reverence to honor the memory of all who have fallen. He knew he was a lucky soul blessed to come home to his family.
I urge you to pause today to remember those brave souls who paid with their lives to ensure we live in the land of the free. During World War II 12% of the population served in the armed forces. Because of their conquests and sacrifices, active and reserve soldiers serving and needed in the military today represent less than 1% of the total U.S. population. They rise above all of us as protectors of our precious way of life. And I am thankful and grateful for each and every one of them.
Happy Memorial Day to all of you. May God bless and protect this great country. And to those who have lost a loved one to war, I send personal hugs with the sincerest hopes that you know how humbled we are by their sacrifice. Because of them, I am so very proud to be an American.
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